Inspired by both French literature and (French graffiti artist) Bek Le Rat, in the early 2000's a young man from Bristol moved to Paris, bought a can of red spray paint and began tagging the city.
With a fierce combination of wit, satire and brevity, British artist epi seeks to both enforce and undermine the boundaries, rules and nuances of the modern day art world.
1) How did you start out as an artist?
I had always dabbled with painting, with no great conviction or ambition to pursue it further. Then I moved to Paris to study literature in the early 2000’s and was immediately struck by the ubiquity of art - in every conceivable form- around the city, be it street art, museum and gallery art, or just the generally artistic timbre of Parisian life.
It is a tired old cliché, but Paris does still retain this quintessence of creativity- a sense that you can experiment and let go and try anything without fear of criticism or opprobrium; that itself fosters a desire simply to create things.
So I got my hands on a can of red spray paint and one night started spraying this heart symbol with an arrow through it on a couple of walls, like a sort of inoffensive graffiti tag. It looked quite cool, and so I then started writing quotes from famous works of French literature on flyposted walls in the Latin Quarter, and then developed them into stencils in elaborate fonts, and it just carried on from there.
2) Who are your key influences?
I’m originally from Bristol, so Banksy was coming up during my teenage years, and the city was full of his work. Up to that point no one had managed to mix wit, brevity, satire and absurdity to such effect, and probably never will again. His work is without peer, and he changed the entire landscape of art in this country, so obviously he’s a major influence.
In turn, his style is heavily based on the work of Blek le Rat, of whom I’m a massive fan. Oscar Wilde’s ability to condense a complex idea into a short, witty aphorism is something I strive to emulate- with little success... And of course Andy Warhol, for having the courage to recycle leitmotifs from popular culture and elevate them into something sublime and desirable.
I’ve always liked that quote by Salvador Dali: “At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.”
3) The art world can be very serious - what do you think sets you apart?
I think largely because my work has at its core a desire to lampoon the art world that it can never be taken as a serious artistic endeavour; if I can amuse someone, or in some way shine a dim little light on the absurdity of contemporary art, then I’ve accomplished what I wanted to achieve.
All of my work is made light-heartedly; I’m not Rembrandt, nor will I ever be, but if I can produce a painting that makes people laugh or smile or burst some bubble of pretentiousness then I’m happy.
4) You say you started out as a graffiti artist in Paris - how influential do you think the Paris street art scene has been to the street art movement in general?
Well, Blek le Rat should be given proper credit for the enormous influence he had on Banksy, who in turn has entirely changed the direction of contemporary art; that is a straight import from Parisian scene.
I’ve always been a huge fan of the propagandist posters made at the Atelier Populaire- the occupied École des Beaux-Arts- during the Mai ‘68 Paris student riots, of which the contemporary street art scene is the bastard son. The Parisian scene introduced the idea of painted text, the use of bold typefaces and simple stencilled images in graffiti, and of course the idea of the ‘paste up’, where mass produced screenprinted posters were glued onto walls rapidly and prolifically.
It's Grim Up North (2021)
5) What do you think is wrong with the artworld today?
A lot of people bemoan the sums of money involved with high art- which is itself morally questionable, particularly at the highest levels- but I think the most insidious thing to emerge recently in art is the cynical appropriation of social justice causes to garner easy praise and adulation.
The Art Thief (2020)
In an age where ‘wokeness’ is the lingua franca, so many artists- even very technically gifted ones- are co-opting some acutely socially progressive concept to draw the attention of the wider public to drum up business; trite, glib affirmations of solidarity and positivity have no place in any artistic medium. That’s both highly disingenuous and sort of insulting to one’s audience- artists should feel free to offend, to provoke, to inflame and to swim against the prevailing tide of fashion.
That said, maybe I’d make more money painting motivational slogans and pictures of children holding hands...